How to make a LinkedIn for teens (and get them to use it)
By MONICA ALBERS Staff writer August 15, 2014 7:00PM
Yolobe CEO David Douglas, second from right, and some of the Tinley Park High School students working on the social media platform. | Submitted
Updated: September 18, 2014 6:42AM
What if teenagers spent more of that computer time thinking about their future?
David Douglas had that thought and decided to build a social network for go-getter high school students. His site, Yolobe — “your life only better” — lets people ages 13-19 set up free profiles, share activities and interests, and connect with companies, career information and volunteer opportunities.
In turn, companies get to reach a group of anything-but-apathetic young people for potential jobs, internships, mentorship and goodwill, Douglas said.
And he has a good idea of what teenagers want because he’s got teenagers working on the project.
Douglas, a management consultant, created a peer mentoring program at Tinley Park High School last year. Some of the students involved have helped with Yolobe marketing, software development and community outreach. Eleven teenagers are working as interns for the social enterprise startup this summer.
Gianni Hamilton, a junior at Tinley Park, is an intern who learned about Yolobe through the mentoring program.
“The whole idea is to get the kids connected to their community,” Hamilton said. “I feel like David started out with the mentoring (program) because he wanted to see how teens would react to other teens helping each other.”
Yolobe launched in February and has grown to a network of 65 users. Douglas sees Tinley Park as pretty representative of teenage America, but he’d like to turn the service into a national network that could give kids from all economic backgrounds a jump-start on their future.
“Hopefully, what this will allow for is for resource-rich communities to be able to open up and provide resources to resource-poor areas, so you get the young girl in a very resource-deprived area who now has access to more and more people,” Douglas said.
“And that’s not something that easily happens right now at all.”
Though he’s learning a lot about teenage communication, he knows that engaging that demographic is difficult.
“You can build an amazing platform, but if you don’t get a majority of a peer group using it, then the peer group isn’t going to use it,” said Justin Sinkovich, associate professor in business and entrepreneurship at Columbia College. “They’re going to go back to whatever else — Facebook, Instagram or something like that.”
But Yolobe’s high school focus might be a differentiator.
“At least by targeting a demographic, that’s something,” Sinkovich said. “Some social media platforms arise in very targeted segments that are not used by the world as a whole.
“So I think that has kind of a benefit.”
Of course, privacy is a concern, especially with kids involved. Douglas is working on policies, as well as a plan for Yolobe to make money through sponsorships and partnerships.
“Our initial priority is garnering interest and understanding that we’re solving the right sets of problems and generating interest in the teenagers,” Douglas said. “Because I think that if we can do that, and they see our platform as valuable, then we can figure out how to attack some of the revenue stuff.”
In the meantime, Yolobe is hoping to grow to 1,000 members by the end of the year, with the students on the team excited about the experience gained working on the project.
Eric Deasy, entering his senior year at Tinley Park, is an intern who’s been with Yolobe since Douglas first pitched his ideas to a group of 25 high school kids.
“It’s been rewarding since I’ve been able to see it from the very beginning, what’s changed and what’s worked, what our mission is going to be,” Deasy said. “Everyone’s bringing something to the table, a little more character, and making it all more appealing to people.”